To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to Chapter 1
Katherine woke up in the morning, a little disoriented to find herself alone in the mermaid quarters. She made some breakfast and then swam out to the practice pool to meet Carmen. Before long, she saw a young woman enter the room and head toward the locker rooms. She had long red hair that looked a little too bright to be natural, and she had earbuds in her ears. She was adjusting something on her phone, so she didn’t see Katherine’s wave and went straight into the locker room. She came out a few minutes later, riding in a wheelchair and wearing Renna’s old tail. She wore one of the old breathing collars with the tubes and mouthpiece. Just as the woman came out of the locker room, a man entered the room from the side door. He looked familiar, but Katherine couldn’t quite place who he was. She waved again.
“Hello. You must be Carmen.” She said.
“Oh, hi. You must be Katherine.” Said Carmen, steering her wheelchair to the side of the pool.
“Yes. I’m glad to meet you. Are you ready?”
“Sure.” Carmen said, turning to the man. This is. . . Paul? Did I remember your name right?”
“Yes, you got it right. Show me how to work the controls and I’ll help you into the pool.”
Katherine’s memory finally connected a name to the face. “Paul. I remember now! You were the guard at the employee entrance before they switched security companies.”
“It’s nice to see you again Katherine.” Paul said. “When I heard that our company was being re-hired for aquarium security, I asked to be transferred back. Since the aquarium is closed, Jacob asked me to help the mermaids get into and out of the water.”
“That’s great. I’m glad to hear you’ll be back with us.”
Paul helped Carmen out of the wheelchair and into the sling, then worked the crane controls to lower her into the water.
“Send me an e-mail or call when you need to get back out of the water.” Paul said.
“We will. Thank you.” Said Katherine.
“Send an e-mail or call? How can we do that?” Asked Carmen.
“Jacob opened the mermaid quarters for me.” Answered Katherine. “Let’s do the first feeding and then I’ll show you.”
“Can I look at your tail? I heard they were much better than ours, but Mr. Fulton wouldn’t let us get them.”
Carmen swam close to Katherine, then put her mouthpiece in and dove under the water so she could look closely at Katherine’s tail. Katherine smiled as the young woman got within inches of her tail, staring closely at the scales and even touching them and lifting one with her hand. After her careful inspection, Carmen surfaced and tucked her wet hair out of the way behind an ear.
“That tail looks so real!” She bubbled. “It looks like it is really a part of your body.”
“Unfortunately, it is. When we were being held captive, our captors filled our tails with a special kind of healgel made for permanent prosthetics, so my tail is now permanently attached.”
“You were held captive? I thought you and the other mermaids all quit.”
“It’s a long story. Why don’t we feed the fish and then I’ll tell you the whole thing.”
Carmen agreed, and they both swam through the tube to the aquarium. Carmen had already pre-positioned several buckets before she put her tail on, so the two of them were able to move right into the feeding routine. Katherine felt a little sad to be doing the job without any customers watching, but she was happy to see that the fish were healthy and happy. At least Jonas had understood how important it was to keep their charges in good shape, and hadn’t cut back on expenses related to the care of the fish. When they were done, the two mermaids swam through the greenhouse room and on into the cafeteria. Carmen seemed pleased to see it.
“I swam in here once or twice, but it was always dark and cold, so I didn’t stay long.” She told Katherine.
“I have a little cleaning to do, but we can sit at a table and I can tell you my story first.”
“Why don’t I help you with the cleaning and we can talk while we work?”
“That’s even better.”
Katherine retrieved some of the cleaning supplies she had brought with her, and they both started scrubbing at the mold and mildew that had grown while the room had been neglected. Katherine told a shortened version of her story, being careful not to mention where she had been held during her time away from the others. Once Katherine’s story was through, Carmen seemed a bit concerned.
“So you expect the other mermaids to be rescued soon?”
“I certainly hope so. We thought it was going to happen yesterday, but they weren’t at the pickup point, and it looked like Carlos’s people had gotten there first. But Dave seems to have a lot of resources and I’m confident he will find a way to find them and rescue them.”
“I hope for your sake they are rescued soon. What happens then?”
“They come home, I guess.”
“Will their tails be stuck on too?”
“I’m afraid they probably will be.”
“So will they be working at the aquarium?”
“That will be up to Audra. But I imagine she will be willing to hire any of them who want to stay. At least until we figure out if there is a way to get the tails off and separate our legs again.”
“I see. I suppose you won’t need us anymore then.”
“Oh, Carmen. Were you worried about losing your job? Audra was already thinking about hiring more mermaids even before we were captured. I think there will be plenty of opportunities for you and any of the others to stay and work with us.”
“I hope so. This has been a really fun job.”
“I’m sure you will be able to keep it as long as you want to. Now, would you like to come with me and help me make a schedule? Jacob sent me all of your names and scheduling preferences, but since you know the other new mermaids and I don’t, you can help me make a schedule that fits everyone best.”
“Sure, I can do that.”
By the time they had made a schedule together and done the second fish feeding of the day, Katherine felt like she was getting to know Carmen pretty well. Then Carmen left and Josephine came for the afternoon shift and she started getting acquainted with yet another of the new mermaids. Josephine was a bit shy, and it took a bit more encouragement on Katherine’s part to get her to talk, but by the end of the day Katherine felt like she was warming up to her. After Josephine left for the evening, Katherine called her mother.
“Have you heard from Dave today?” She asked.
“Yes, he called me not too long ago.”
“Is there any news about Allen and the others?”
“Well, Dave just arrived down there, and they took him to the place where they were supposed to meet them. They searched the area nearby and didn’t find any more clues. But Dave is trying to get some contacts in the area to start gathering information.”
“That’s disappointing, but I suppose I understand.”
“He promised he would call us both as soon as he found out anything useful.”
The next day, Katherine met two more of the new mermaids – Fanny and Jane. Fanny was a petite, dark-haired, vivacious young woman that Katherine really enjoyed being around. Jane was not as much fun. She was tall, blonde, and stunningly beautiful, but she showed up half an hour late for the afternoon feeding time, and when she came her eyes were bloodshot and her attitude was sullen.
“Sorry I’m late.” She told Katherine. “I wasn’t feeling well this morning.”
“Are you sick? Do you need a doctor?” Katherine asked.
“No, I’ll be fine in a while. I just needed some time to recover.”
“All right. Let’s get to work then.”
They swam to the aquarium and began feeding the fish. Katherine noticed that Jane seemed to struggle with the task, taking two or three tries to grab a dead fish with a feeding pole, and needing to read the feeding record for the fish several times. She suspected Jane was dealing with a powerful hangover, or she was under the influence of some drug. She resolved to speak with her about it once they got back to the recreation pool, but when they swam into the room, Katherine noticed a message blinking on her phone. She picked it up and saw it was from Janice, so she immediately called her.
“Did you get good news from Dave?” She asked when Janice answered.
“Yes, partially good. They still don’t know where Allen is, but one of Dave’s sources managed to get some information from someone who works for Carlos. They said Carlos has been very angry lately because the mermaids sank two of his boats. And even though he got close to catching them two days ago, his divers were attacked by dolphins and they got away.”
“Attacked by dolphins?”
“That’s what Carlos said.”
“I’ve heard of occasional dolphin attacks on humans, but chasing off a group of divers seems like a very unlikely behavior.”
“Well, the information is third hand – maybe some dolphins just got in the way or something. The main thing is that the mermaids got away. Dave says they are continuing to search the area, but he hopes the mermaids will try to contact him again.”
Katherine kept herself busy for the next few days, cleaning and organizing the mermaid quarters and getting to know the new mermaids. She got along well with all of them except Jane, who consistently found reasons to be late and who did her work only grudgingly. Her evenings were the difficult times as she worried about Allen and ran through possible scenarios in her head. After the second day, Janice arranged to come join her for a few hours each night. Paul or one of the other guards would help her into the pool, and she would bring supplies for dinner. Then she and Katherine would make dinner together in the cafeteria and spend the evening together, both trying to keep their minds off of what might be happening to Allen and their friends. So they were together when Janice checked her e-mail and found one from Maria.
“Janice, this is Maria Cruz. We decided to contact you since Carlos found out when we called Dave the last time. We are all safe and in hiding at the Isla Marisol Resort. The owners here have been very helpful. Can you tell Dave where we are? No yellow flags this time. Just have them tell the resort owners they are looking for Anna and her friends. We’ll try to check this e-mail from time to time.”
They were sitting together on the couch in the entertainment pool when they read the e-mail. Janice almost dropped her phone into the water when Katherine whooped and grabbed her in a tight hug.
“I’m so glad they’re safe.” Katherine said. “You have to call Dave right now. But use his personal phone.”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking. Last time, the mermaids called him at his office number, so somebody in his office must be reporting to Carlos. I’ll call his personal cell-phone.”
Janice sent a quick reply to the e-mail, then called Dave and told him the good news. He told her he would get the boat on the way to the resort immediately.